Tobacco companies are set to launch a generation of devices deliver a hit of nicotine and mimic the experience of smoking without the lethal effects in a bid to eradicate harmful cigarettes.
One of such devices, being developed by an Oxford graduate, has attracted the attention of BAT, one of the world's largest tobacco companies, which has bought the rights to market it, the Independent reported.
Alex Hearne believes he has cracked the problem that has defied efforts for 50 years - developing a safer, satisfying substitute for the cigarette.
The 29-year-old entrepreneur and inventor, who studied classics at Oxford University, claims to have discovered how to deliver medicinal nicotine into the lungs in a way that does not risk smokers' health.
He says his device, similar to an asthma inhaler, provides "all the psychological cues and sensations of smoking."
A profusion of electronic and other devices has appeared in the past year, thanks to a legal loophole, which allows them to be sold freely so long as they do not make any health claim.
An estimated 10 million "e-cigarettes", which are shaped to look like the real thing and simulate smoking by heating nicotine to produce an inhaled mist, have been sold worldwide.
Other devices, similar to asthma inhalers, deliver the nicotine as a vapour or powder drawn directly into the mouth or lungs.
UK regulators are considering ways to bring the new devices within the law but campaigners are insisting on "light touch" controls, which could make it legal to market them in newsagents and supermarkets alongside cigarettes.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which licenses medicines, has begun a programme of research following a consultation exercise on the risks to consumers from the products and the impact of regulation.
It is due to make a final decision on how to regulate them by spring 2013.
The Royal College of Physicians has called for the devices to be made more widely available.
Others warn that making the devices widely available could lead to non-smokers becoming addicted or act as a "gateway" to tobacco for children.